By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Three years after hiring Rodriguez, police officials discovered that driving wasn't her only problem. Judgment was another.
On the evening of May 19, 1997, the officer was drinking at Shuckums Restaurant in downtown Hollywood with a friend, Fred Dominguez. While wearing a Chicago Cubs T-shirt, Dominguez started arguing with a large, unidentified man about sports team loyalty. Later, the man allegedly assaulted Dominguez in the bathroom, poking him in the eye and spilling beer on him.
According to a statement officer Rodriguez gave IA investigators, Dominguez later tried to make peace. "Let me buy you a beer," Rodriguez recalled hearing Dominguez say.
Suddenly, the two men went at each other. Dominguez picked up a barstool and smacked the other man across the head, two witnesses later told IA officers. A mob, which included Rodriguez, pulled the two apart.
The large man continued to taunt Dominguez. Sitting at the bar, a bottle of Icehouse in front of her, Rodriguez abruptly stood up and grabbed the bottle. "I saw everything," recalled Erin Kiley, a waitress at Shuckums.
"Asshole!" Rodriguez allegedly yelled at the man, then threw the bottle, which smashed into a keg handle and shattered into hundreds of pieces. Two tiny shards hit 25-year-old bartender Kimberly Dulaney, cutting her face and causing a small laceration at the bottom of her eye. "A bottle came flying at me," Dulaney said, "and then I went rushing to the bathroom because I had glass in my eye."
Rodriguez denied to IA that she threw the bottle, claiming that instead she was gesturing with the bottle and accidentally broke it on the bar. "I've been the most valuable athlete through all my years in high school," Rodriguez explained. "I can surely pick up a bottle and throw it less than 25 feet and hit the guy in his face if I wanted to."
But Rodriguez was hardly in a state to remember the evening's events accurately, Dulaney told IA investigators. "She was toast, she was intoxicated, she was gone," Dulaney said.
On June 10, 1998, IA ruled against Rodriguez, suspending her without pay for one week for officer misconduct.
It wouldn't be the last time that questions arose about whether alcohol had clouded Rodriguez's judgment. On August 14, 2004, the night her Nissan crashed into the Publix semi on I-95, paramedics raised the question again.
Indeed, Rodriguez's actions following the collision with Elder's truck suggest that she might have had something to hide. In her Nissan that night was a police radio. Immediately following the accident, Rodriguez could have dispatched the Hollywood Fire Department to respond with paramedics. Curiously, she didn't. Instead, she called Barbara Duffy, lawyer for the PBA.
Asked on November 15, 2004, by IA investigators why she didn't call paramedics, Rodriguez responded: "I have no idea what I did. I was told I was crying."
But that's not how paramedic Lt. Alexander Poli of the Hollywood Fire Department remembered it not long after the collision. Poli's unit, Rescue 5, was called to the scene on reports of a burning semi. Poli's unit was the first to respond. His assessment of Rodriguez was positive: She did not appear disoriented. "Every question I asked her, she answered appropriately," Poli told IA investigators.
Following procedure, paramedics took Rodriguez to Hollywood Memorial Hospital. And that's when things became strange, the paramedic said. After only a few minutes at the hospital, Rodriguez signed herself out. Poli and his rookie partner, Marcy Hofle, watched as someone escorted Rodriguez from the hospital.
"We thought it was strange that she had left," Hofle said. So did Florida Highway Patrol officers, who -- Elder contends -- expressed frustration that they never tested Rodriguez's blood-alcohol level. "There was suspicion -- don't recall how it came up -- that she was under the influence of alcohol," Hofle told an IA investigator.
FHP couldn't locate Rodriguez for more than ten hours after the accident, according to Capt. John Roberts, an FHP spokesman. What the patrolmen didn't know at the time was that Rodriguez was at PBA lawyer Duffy's home -- a fact she later admitted to IA. "The only thing I remember is, I was involved in an accident and I woke up at 12 noon on August 14," Rodriguez claimed to internal investigators while Duffy sat next to her as legal counsel. Duffy did not return calls for comment.
Elder, who required surgery to repair injuries to his shoulder, was out of work for four months after the accident. Even now, he can't drive a big rig. He's assigned indefinitely to light duty at one of the grocery chain's warehouses. "I don't know for sure if she was drunk," Elder says. "But it's pretty suspicious that she disappeared for ten hours."
Even now, FHP is having difficulty investigating the crash and has not filed charges in the case. "Believe it or not, the investigation is still ongoing," Capt. Roberts says. "Some of the witnesses have been reluctant to come forward. We're issuing subpoenas." Roberts would neither confirm nor deny that Hollywood police officers are the ones who haven't given statements.
For her part, Rodriguez has received merely token punishment. An IA investigation could prove only that she was using a police vehicle after hours, resulting in a 30-hour suspension for a policy violation. To avoid losing pay, Rodriguez used 30 hours of vacation time during her unpaid suspension.